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Kellygreen Kennel dogs live high on the hog

by Linda Hiller

It may well be that the saying “It’s a dog’s life,” came from the pampered English Labrador retrievers at Kellygreen Kennels in Gardnerville. If you were a dog, you’d want to reside there, too.

After 35 years, owner Sally Kelly definitely has dog breeding down to an art as well as a science.

“They have the best facility I’ve ever seen,” said Douglas County Animal Control Supervisor Rhonda Fingar. “Before they even moved here, Sally’s husband came out to look at our facility and much of what we use here – our cleaning and water system – he built into their ‘Taj Mahal’ of a kennel. It’s beautiful and they have some wonderful dogs there.”

The Kellys moved Kellygreen Kennels to Carson Valley two years ago, retiring after 25 years in Pennsylvania. Joe, 70, was a marketing vice president for Quaker State Corp. and Sally was raising English Labradors full time.

Bringing the dogs to Nevada from Pennsylvania took two racehorse vans with four drivers, followed by a van with four adults and six puppies, driving 67 hours straight, getting detoured south through Texas by a Colorado storm.

“Moving them was really something,” Sally Kelly said. “We wanted to make it as easy on the dogs as possible.”

The 2-year-old kennel on Waterloo Lane has more square footage than the average Carson Valley home and cost more, too. Housed separately from the family’s three-story residence, the two-story 5,000-square-foot kennel was built for more than $200,000 with 24 runs downstairs, most occupied by at least two dogs.

Kelly, 69, started breeding dogs 35 years ago, working with breeds such as springer spaniels, great Danes, cocker spaniels and other breeds, but eventually found the personality of the English labs to be irresistible. Now, after many generations of Kelly English labs, she is known worldwide as an expert on the breed.

“The No. 1 trait I breed for in the English lab is temperament,” she said. “They are absolutely flawless in their temperament – calm, sweet and easygoing.”

n Kennel is 7th Fingar said Kellygreen Kennels is the 7th licensed kennel in Douglas County. To get a license, applicants must be properly zoned, have a minimum if 10 acres, pay an annual fee and undergo a yearly inspection in addition to complying with other regulations.

A tour of Kellygreen Kennels, housing approximately 65 dogs, give or take a few puppies, is surprisingly relaxing and uplifting. There is no smell, except for the puppy smell (some describe it as popcorn) in the whelping room, no cacophony of barking in the kennel, where instead the only sounds from dogs in cages on either side of the central walkway are their wagging tails slapping the floor as you approach. Any beginning vocalizations from the dogs are quickly quelled by the diminutive Kelly’s firm voice.

The genetics of breeding Labrador retrievers is perhaps more complicated than most other breeds, given their tendency to “throw” colors. The black color is the most common, followed by yellow, then chocolate and finally the rare fox reds. Kelly is one of the most successful chocolate breeders, but says there are fans of all colors in her customers.

n Home improvement puppy. Kelly’s puppies are pre-ordered, even before they are born. Currently, she has approximately 20 puppies – one light yellow female slated for the actor who plays Tim Allen’s sidekick, Al Borlin, on the television show “Home Improvement.”

Prices for the puppies start at $600 for black and yellows, $700 for chocolates and $800 for fox reds. These prices are for family dogs. Champion offspring and breeding stock can go up from there.

But all is not fun and profit in the dog breeding business. Kelly buys dog food by the ton, using an estimated 100 pounds a day of Tri-Pro, Eukanuba and Pedigree dog foods. Veterinary bills can easily exceed $1,000 per month, from X-rays for hip dysplasia to Caesarean deliveries to vaccinations. Add to that the advertising costs for the magazine Dog World, electric bills, water costs, shipping expenses, airplane tickets, bedding materials (she uses shredded newspaper, sometimes changed twice a day) and more. Kelly also brings in dogs from England, Holland and Scotland from time to time, to insure ever-improving bloodlines.

Coupled with superior dogs, Kelly’s ironclad guarantee is one of the reasons her puppies are in such great demand.

“I stand behind my dogs 100 percent,” she said. “If someone gets a dog and it doesn’t work out, for any reason, I’ll take the dog back.”

Kelly is also as picky as she can be about where their dogs go, Joe said.

“One time she had a puppy go to the Midwest and it was in a cage with a larger dog and wasn’t growing,” he said. “We found out that the owner was just feeding both of the dogs one dish of food, so our puppy wasn’t getting enough food because the bigger dog was hogging it. We found out about it and had the dog shipped back to us. We spent $3,000 to $4,000 getting that dog back.”

n The breeds. English Labrador retrievers are one of three lab breeds, Kelly said. The other breeds are field dogs and American labs. A top national field dog champion sold for $200,000, Kelly said, with the puppies from that female costing around $8,000 each.

The English Labrador is a good all-around breed, used as dogs for the blind, for hunting and as a family dog. They are also popular with International Detector Dogs, used for government purposes including mine detection. The son of Kelly’s best-ever dog, Crofter, was active in Operation Desert Storm.

“Crofter’s son was used as a mine detector during Desert Storm,” she said, adding that the United States government paid $35,000 for the dog from IDD.

Crofter, a sweet old dog, still lives with Kelly. He was a Canadian American champion and sired superior puppies, she said, but became sterile at 3.

“That was heartbreaking,” she said. “He’s the best dog I ever had.”

All of Kelly’s dogs are named – Vogue, Red Alert, On Target, etc. – and easily identified by her. She can rattle off their parents and bloodlines as they crowd around her legs.

When puppies are shipped out to their new owners, Kelly uses only American Airlines and sends the pups on midnight flights so they can sleep most of the night.

“In 35 years of shipping dogs, I have never lost one. It’s very safe,” she said.

n A family of graduates. The Kellys both graduated from the University of Arizona, she majoring in art and he in business. They have have four children, all college graduates and 12 grandchildren. In the year 2,000, Sally and Joe will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

Sally Kelly’s enthusiasm for the dogs is exceeded only by her seemingly boundless energy. She lifts weights five times a week and has respectable biceps. She ran in the New York marathon and said she was running before there were running shoes.

“I used to run in $3 KMart shoes,” she said.

Kelly’s day begins at dawn and usually ends at dusk, except for occasional middle-of-the-night checks on puppies.

She has definite thoughts on raising puppies and potty training and has written several articles over the years on various subjects relating to her expertise as both a dog lover as well as a lab breeder.

In the whelping room, where four litters of puppies frolic and nurse periodically from their mothers, the adult females are gentle and unaggressive with a stranger who enters.

“Will they bite?” you wonder as the mothers crowd and sniff while their puppies frolic in pens that separate each litter so bloodlines are kept straight.

“Heavens, no,” Kelly says nonchalantly. “I breed for temperament. That is my number one priority. I really want my dogs sold to families. Then if they want to show them or whatever, that is their choice.”

n Want one? Retired dogs from Kellygreen Kennels are free to an approved home, she said.

In one large room, retired dogs – perhaps a dozen of them – come to greet intruders with wagging tails.

Kelly currently has six to eight adults available for adoption. For more information, call 782-3224.

Leading this busy life might be burdensome to someone without Kelly’s sensibilities, but seems perfect for her.

“I’m not into clothes or jewelry or expensive entertainment,” she said. “I do love these dogs.”

Being around the quiet warmth of the dogs is comforting, but if Kelly had to pick only one dog to live with, it would be one of her males, she said.

“They are perfect gentlemen with tons of personality,” she said. “There’s nothing that compares to an English labrador.”

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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